Chingford Interviews

Faiza Shaheen: ‘Politics is a dirty game, but I wish it wasn’t’

The independent candidate sat down with the Echo to discuss Labour’s ‘dirty’ campaign, her chances tonight, and what she would do as the homegrown MP for Chingford and Woodford Green

Interview by Marco Marcelline

Faiza knocking on doors during the campaign.

Echo: How are you feeling about the campaign you’ve run?

Faiza Shaheen: I think it’s been such a whirlwind… but [a] really joyful campaign. It’s been really fun, it’s been really community orientated. And it’s been really meaningful to have so much support from the community and for the work that we’ve been doing here for so long to be recognised.#

It’s been amazing in lots of ways, but like, obviously tiring. We’re fighting two machines, the Conservative machine and the Labour machine.

Over the campaign, you’ve gone onto Twitter/X to say that the Labour Party has run a particularly unpleasant campaign against you by spreading a ‘vicious lie’ that you were deselected for ‘more serious’ reasons than liking tweets. How do you feel about their campaign?

The Labour Party has been a bit nasty to me. I think it’s really sad [that] so many people [have] either messaged me or approached me in the street and said to me that [Labour has] been spreading misinformation about me. I think it’s unnecessary. 

I don’t know why they’re doing it. Everyone’s like, ‘you know, it’s politics, it’s a dirty game’ – but I wish it wasn’t the case.

[The Labour Party did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations]

How has the deselection been for you? Have you been able to process it yet?

It’s been hard on me. From the way that they deselected me and briefed the press and since then, [the Labour approach has] been about trying to ruin my name and my character. And that’s hard because I don’t deserve that. I’ve worked here for years trying to win the seat for Labour and put them in a really good position because of our volunteers. 

Their work has never been acknowledged. I mean, fine, ignore me, but at least acknowledge the work the volunteers have done here for years and years.

Do you regret ever standing for Labour given what’s happened?

No.  Listen, I’ve got Labour values. I’ve worked for the trade unions, I support public ownership, internationalism. I’ve loved campaigning and knocking on these doors and having these conversations and getting involved in various campaigns over the years from helping my old school, and supporting them in getting a new lollipop person. 

It’s really meaningful to be involved in your community and to be part of it. And so I don’t regret any of it, despite what’s happened. But I do regret the way I was treated. And it’s going to take me a while to get over that; I haven’t had time to process it.

You’ve spoken on how the Labour campaign tried to ‘frustrate’ your campaign before you were deselected. For example, a paid organiser was removed from your team late last year…

What’s been amazing is that with everything that they’ve done, even from then to more recently, it’s the community, it’s the volunteers in the campaign that have stepped up every time and got behind me. 

They’ve seen the bullying themselves. I mean, so many people have left the Labour Party, so many people have got involved in this campaign that are utterly appalled by how I’ve been treated. 

And, you know, I was open about what was happening to me. People could see it. I mean, someone had given me £5,000 when I was first elected in 2022. And the [regional party] had held on to that. They wouldn’t give it to us.

And that funder had to get involved again to push them to give us the money because they weren’t giving me the money.

[Labour was contacted for comment regarding these allegations]

How do you feel now that you’re independent?

Incredible. [I’ve been] freed to talk about issues like the two-child benefit cap, like electoral reform, and what’s happening in Gaza. [I’m] able to be bold and push back about things that we need in our community [while] not having to stick to any party line.

I’m able to do politics differently and get so much of the community involved. Getting Ronnie O’Sullivan involved, doing this night [this week], where he came to [Chingford Mount] to play pool with my supporters.

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[If I was still in Labour] I wouldn’t have been allowed to run this campaign this way. It’s very mechanical the way that you’re told to do it. You have to stay at home and just call the numbers. It’s not about building community. It’s not about grassroots involvement.

In fact, [Labour HQ] don’t really want that because they like a top-down approach. So it’s just been so freeing to be able to do this.

Faiza has been joined on the campaign trail by snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan (left)

Did you ever feel that you were compromising your values by campaigning for Labour? 

Of course I had doubts about staying in Labour. Especially around [its stance on] Gaza.  

I was on calls where I was told with eyes rolled that everyone will forget [about Gaza] by the time it comes to the election. And, I was texting Keir Starmer saying, ‘please vote for a ceasefire’, and he had no response. 

But, again, I really knew that the community had worked so hard to get me to be selected, and I didn’t want to doubt that I had a responsibility to them. And as it turned out whatever I did or said, they were going to use something somehow [to deselect me].

There were things that I was unwilling to do. One thing they said I needed to say was that Israel is not an apartheid state. I said no because…Amnesty International, human rights organisations have called Israel an apartheid state, not [just] me. 

In our interview with her, Shama Tatler said she is more experienced in politics than you because she has had a career in local government. What’s your response? 

People need to look at her record there. I mean, Brent is very different to Chingford and Woodford Green. 

People should look at the various bits on her record there in building housing and read for themselves. 

My experience is supporting the community here. So whether it was the families being kicked out of [London & Quadrant] housing down at the dog stadium, whether it was supporting in the street when they were trying to put in housing in multiple occupations, you know, whether it was academisation, botched academisation at formerly Longshore School, I got involved with those communities, and supported them.

In my work as an equality advisor, I’ve had seven prime ministers and presidents launch my work on the sidelines of the United Nations. I’ve worked on policies on green investment and inequality that were adopted and being looked at by countries as big as and as important as Indonesia. 

I get that what  ends up happening is that people talk more about my local roots, which is all true, but actually I’ve had this wealth of experience globally.

Iain Duncan Smith says he has delivered for the local community. He says he’s fought for and saved South Chingford Community Library.  He has also opposed all these kinds of high-rises or tower blocks that you see in Walthamstow and in the south of the borough, but you don’t see in Chingford. 

Do you think you can fight a lot harder for this community than him because you’re from here?

Not just that. I think the thing with Iain Duncan Smith is that he’s a bit disingenuous. Because on the one hand, he’ll say, I’ve supported the community library, which of course he did get involved in, but he also voted for all the cuts in government. He voted for Thames Water and his companies to have provisions to pump sewage into our rivers and our lakes and our seas.

And so for him then to be like, ‘I’m a local champion’, when he’s voted for the exact opposite in government, it’s completely inconsistent. You know, the analogy that comes to mind is the arsonist getting applauded for putting out the fire. I mean, come on.

If you get elected, you will be quite isolated in parliament. How will you be able to effect change there, especially if Labour has a ‘supermajority’?

Labour won’t even they won’t listen to people within Labour. So what I’ll do is use the fact that it would be so unusual to have an independent voice and I will be asked to go on every TV show. 

And I will be a voice, a progressive voice, that can mobilise this community, but communities in general. I will also work with the Lib Dems, the Greens, SNP and others in government.  Maybe some Labour MPs in the backbenches too. 

And [fellow independent candidate] Jeremy Corbyn if he’s elected too? 

Yeah, if there’s particular issues [we can work on], of course. Being outside Labour means I would be able to form coalitions and get media attention.

Do you think you can win? 

Of course, we’re in it to win it.  There’s still a lot of work to go in every minute now.

Catch the Echo‘s live coverage of the Waltham Forest count here from 10pm

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